Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The issues behind Ahmed Muhamed’s arrest extend far further than a clock

It came as no surprise to me when the news broke that a 14-year-old American schoolboy of Sudanese descent [1] had been arrested for bringing a time-measuring device that he had built to school.

Perhaps because I am a person of colour, that also happens to be Muslim, and I’ve spent years trying to promote science from non-European civilisations, this turn of events seemed inevitable.

My work involves challenging assumptions that place Europe at the centre of scientific progress; whilst this seems simple, it is in fact a radical break from the norm.

Centuries of explorations made by non-European civilisations are starkly absent from our academia, history books and mainstream media, and it’s children like Ahmed who are now paying the price. Had our academia, history books and mainstream media been inclusive – balanced and with a longer view of history – it wouldn’t be quite so easy to believe that boys named Ahmed are only capable of making bombs. If it were better known that this is a child whose heritage boasts a long tradition of learning and scholarship that nurtured noteworthy personalities such as Idris Alooma, renowned for being a pioneering 16th century king who patronised scholarship then perhaps then perhaps a clock wouldn’t have looked so jarring in his adolescent hands [2]. After all, many Muslim scholars such as Al-Jazari excelled in producing time pieces, in particular water clocks [3], some historians even assert that it was Ibn Yunus who discovered the pendulum [4].

The problem we are faced with is summed up clearly by the images below, one showing a white British child applauded for building a nuclear fusion reactor, and the other showing Texas schoolboy Mohamed arrested for building a clock.